Friday, November 27, 2015
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College Track Comes to Watts, “Ghost Suspensions,” and Use-of-Force

November 13th, 2015 by Taylor Walker


On Thursday, LA Mayor Eric Garcetti, Councilmember Joe Busciano, education groups, students, and supporters, gathered at Jordan High School to celebrate the launch of an important new program in Watts called “College Track.”

Garcetti and Busciano were joined by Green Dot, the Partnership for LA Schools, Housing Authority of the City of Los Angeles, the Emerson Collective, and the Wasserman Foundation, with whom College Track has partnered to bring crucial resources and services to Watts students.

College Track, which has already been successfully implemented in other areas, is an innovative program to help kids in underserved communities attend and graduate college. The 10-year program supports kids from 9th grade through completion of their college degree.

The program provides students with academic support, leadership training, scholarships, help with housing, and college and financial advice.

Through College Track, 93% of the 2,400 participating students were accepted into a four-year college, and those kids had a graduation rate 2.5 times that of low income students nationally.

(Here’s a sweet video of a young College Track participant named Alex, who wants to major in computer science at Boston College, speaking at the event.)


In 2013, Los Angeles banned suspensions for “willful defiance,” a broad term that could be slapped onto anything from talking back in class, to not having the right materials for an assignment, to a dress code violation. Suspension rates have plummeted in Los Angeles and across California as school districts have been moving away from harsh school discipline practices toward more healing restorative justice practices. The Los Angeles Unified School District also announced last year that it would stop issuing citations to students for youthful offenses like truancy, possession of alcohol or marijuana, and fighting, in an effort to stop the flow of students into the juvenile justice system. But the transition to smarter school discipline has not been an easy one.

Last week, a story from the LA Times’ Teresa Watanabe and Howard Blume revealed that some LAUSD teachers said that lack of financial resources had resulted in half-implemented restorative justice policies, leaving teachers, no longer able to suspend students for “willful defiance,” without proper tools to handle unruly classrooms.

And those massively reduced suspension rates may not be as impressive as they seem, thanks to informal “ghost suspensions.” Some advocates say schools are lowering suspension rates by sending kids home with their parents or putting them in a separate classroom all day without counting them as out-of-school suspensions.

The Chronicle of Social Change’s Nadra Nittle has more on the issue. Here’s a clip:

As the push for restorative justice grows nationwide, LAUSD is not only citing fewer students for minor infractions but suspending fewer also. In May 2013, the school board passed the School Climate Bill of Rights to ban suspensions for willful defiance. This catchall category included infractions like talking back or cursing and faced criticism from activists who said they led to racial disparities in school discipline.

After eliminating willful defiance suspensions, the suspension rate in LAUSD dropped to 1.3 percent, half of L.A. County’s rate of 2.8 percent and more than three times lower than the state rate of 4.4 percent.

But community organizers such as McGowan question whether the district’s impressive suspension rate tells the whole story about discipline in LAUSD. His organization represents students in South Los Angeles schools, where they’re subject to informal suspensions, he said.

“They find a room to send them,” he said of local schools. “They’re not going to call it in-school suspensions, but one high school has a Room 100 where they send kids.”

McGowan also asserted that schools sometimes remove students “having a bad day” from class by asking parents to pick them up.

“They’re sending kids out of the classroom for extended periods of time,” he said. “They’re just not counting it as out-of-school suspensions.”

Earl Perkins, LAUSD’s assistant superintendent of school operations, denied McGowan’s claims.

“Informal suspensions are not in our makeup,” he said. “There might have been one case. We have referral rooms for students, but it’s not suspension. They may go out of class, but it’s not suspension. We don’t have ghost suspensions. It’s not supposed to be happening. If it does, it’s dealt with very severely.”

But like McGowan, Kim McGill, a Youth Justice Coalition organizer, expressed concerns about the tactics LAUSD uses to lower its rate of suspensions and expulsions. She said that some schools pressure families to transfer their children to continuation or alternative schools to keep discipline numbers down.

“Our main concern is that schools are pushing students out of the comprehensive school district,” she said. “Our concern is that schools can reformat things so it looks like expulsion [but] has a different name.”


In an interview with NPR’s Kelly McEvers, Matt Johnson, president of the Los Angeles Police Commission, said his goal is to reduce officer use-of-force numbers, through de-escalation training and an examination of the less-than-lethal weapons officers use.

Johnson is the only black member of the civilian commission tasked with overseeing the LAPD. Johnson says his personal experiences with racism from law enforcement officers in New Jersey (his home state) give him a unique perspective on the “crisis of confidence” between communities of color and law enforcement.

Earlier this week, WLA pointed to KPCC’s gathering of five years worth of data on police involved-shootings. The LA-based NPR station found that LA officers (LASD, LAPD, and others) shot 375 people, of whom, about one in four was unarmed.

Here’s a clip from the interview:

JOHNSON: We’ll look at tactics in training. We’ll look at the tools that they have, whether it’s Tasers or beanbag shotguns, and we will also look at things like de-escalation techniques which are really – you’re talking about communication skills, verbal skills to bring a situation down. If it’s at a six, let’s try and bring it down to a two rather than having it get to a ten.


MCEVERS: You’ve been criticized by protesters from the Black Lives Matter movement because you now work inside the system. Is that going to make it hard for you to work with certain people in the community?

JOHNSON: Well, I think, first of all, you have to recognize that that is one group out of many, many, many groups, and it’s not really about me as an individual although they may say otherwise. Look; I understand the pain and anger that comes out of where they’re coming from. Their anger is at the institution, and as president of the Police Commission, I am absolutely the representative, the primary representative of the commission. And one – you know, along with the chief of police, we are primary representatives of the police department.

So my focus is really on two things. We have to really look very hard at every one of these use-of-force instances and judge them fairly. And secondly and probably more importantly, we need to be making sure that we’re doing everything we can to decrease the numbers of use-of-force.


On Tuesday, LAPD Chief Charlie Beck announced the creation of a new award, called the “Preservation of Life Medal,” to recognize officers who “display commendable restraint” rather than use deadly force. The medal, Chief Beck said, would be on the same level as the Medal of Valor.

The police chief pointed to two particular recent instances in which officers safely took suspects into custody. In one of the incidents, two officers wrestled a man with a sawed-off rifle into submission. “It could have easily been an incident where deadly force was deployed, but it was not,” Beck said.

“I know many times at the commission, you hear about the times when officers are forced into using deadly force,” Beck said to the commission. “But I also want to make sure we cover and recognize the many times law enforcement officers are able to save lives by their restraint.”

The LA Times editorial board applauds the decision as part of a larger effort on the part of Chief Beck to address use-of-force issues. Here’s a clip:

Of course, an award alone won’t immediately change public opinion or police behavior. But it’s a step in the right direction. What’s more, the announcement at Tuesday’s Police Commission meeting was just one manifestation of the attention Beck and other L.A. officials have been paying recently to the public’s concerns about deadly encounters between officers and suspects.

At the meeting, Beck described the details of a fatal officer-involved shooting on Monday in Lake Balboa, and he reported statistics on the use of force and how many of the suspects involved were African American. This is new. In recent years, Beck typically hasn’t talked about shootings by officers during his weekly report to the commission (because such shootings had been way down, at least until this year).

These actions and others, such as the expansion of training for police officers in how to de-escalate tense situations, suggest that Beck and Mayor Eric Garcetti are taking seriously complaints from the public about unnecessary use of force. After a slow start, Garcetti has called on Beck and Matt Johnson, a recent appointee to the commission, to respond. To their credit, they have.

But not everyone is pleased with the new award. Beck’s announcement of the new award raised the hackles of leaders from the police union, who made the point that officers hold their fire whenever possible, but shouldn’t hold their fire to the point of endangering their lives.

KPCC’s Frank Stoltze has more on the police union’s statement.

Posted in Education, LAPD, Willful defiance | No Comments »

Eight Years of Misclassified Crime, George Gascón on Risk-Assessment, and LA Audit$ Troubled Group Home

October 16th, 2015 by Taylor Walker


Last year, an LA Times investigation revealed the LAPD misclassified hundreds of serious violent offenses as minor offenses in 2013. Last week, an audit found similar errors in the department’s 2014 crime stats. The Times’ Ben Poston, Joel Rubin, and Anthony Pesce took another look, and found that the misreporting could be traced back at least an additional eight years.

This new investigation found that between 2005-2012, the department mislabeled approximately 14,000 serious assaults as minor offenses, which resulted in inaccurate crime rates.

The misreporting made it appear as if violent crime rates were falling 7% faster, and serious assault rates were falling 16% faster than they actually were. (After taking the miscalculations into account, the analysis found that the city still experienced a decline in violent crime during those eight years.)

LAPD officials acknowledged that the crime data reporting errors could have a negative impact on public trust, and said the department was working to correct as much as possible.

On Thursday evening, WitnessLA’s editor, Celeste Fremon, appeared on on KCRW’s Which Way LA? with host Warren Olney to talk about the Times’ story and the faulty crime stats.

Among the topics discussed was the matter of whether the problem existed prior to 2005, when the Times analysis stopped. Fremon said that WLA’s sources close to the department told us they were not at all shocked by the Times’ findings, and that the practice of creative classification was occurring well before 2005.

A New York Post story by Chris Perez, Shawn Cohen, and Rich Calder jumped to the conclusion that former LAPD Chief (and current NYPD commissioner) “cooked the books,” misclassifying the crimes deliberately to make the city’s crime statistics look better than they actually were.

But according to WLA’s sources, it is more likely that the misreporting in the Bratton era was an artifact of pressure that some officials felt at the station level to meet the weekly and monthly crime reduction goals that were a part of the Bratton-instituted COMPSTAT system. As a consequence, our sources said, some station captains felt an incentive to get the desired results by whatever means available.

One source also suggested that property crimes could be another fertile area for future examination. In the case of property crimes, he said, there was often a subtle discouragement when it came to the reporting of certain lower-level property offenses like car break ins and theft. This “discouragement factor,” he said, could affect overall crime numbers.

UC Berkeley criminologist Barry Krisberg also appeared on WWLA?, and made the point that it would be preferable for independent statisticians to analyze city and county crime data, rather than the various policing agencies involved, thus eliminating the temptation to manipulate the numbers that were reported by officers on the ground.

The Times’ investigation also calls into question some of the recent reports of LA crime spikes. If serious assaults have been underreported for years, we should probably be healthily skeptical (and continue to ask questions about) rises and drops in crime, moving forward.


Writing for the MacArthur Foundation’s Safety and Justice Challenge “Decision Points” blog series, San Francisco District Attorney George Gascón points to risk-assessment as a meaningful tool prosecutors can use to reduce prison and jail populations while also reducing racial disparity in the criminal justice system.

Gascón says prosecutors should trade tradition for a system of risk-based assessment (taking into consideration factors such as prior offenses, marital status, age, sex, education, and employment status) with regard to pre-trial detention and sentencing.

(We at WLA hope the same kind of enthusiasm for risk-assessment will find its way to LA.)

Here’s how Gascón’s essay opens:

Defining new models for success in a system that is so steeped in tradition takes courage, and it takes vision. As a prosecutor and chief law enforcement leader with more than 30 years of service, I believe it is incumbent upon prosecutors to identify new models of public safety that reduce both incarceration and unwarranted racial disparities. While these are challenging goals, a modern justice system that embraces data and evaluation can indeed make real progress.

Risk-based assessment tools provide us with an opportunity to refine how we do our work. Using historical data from our work—what cases we charged and how we resolved them—we can determine with much greater accuracy who is dangerous and needs confinement and who can safely be treated in the community. We can also identify where our decisions may have been influenced by inappropriate factors such as race or ethnicity.

Traditionally, prosecutors’ use of science has been limited to forensics and expert witness testimony. Research-based decision making has not had a prevalent role in our work. Thankfully, advancements in risk-based assessment tools can improve decision making about pretrial release and appropriate sentencing options. Refusing to use our own data about our prior successes and failures, with the goals of making better decisions going forward, is irresponsible. Nearly every profession has been improved through data collection and analysis, and prosecution should be no different. Our profession has historically been cloaked in tradition, often to the detriment of improving outcomes. As the country grapples with the reality of mass incarceration, we must embrace tools that can help us safely reduce our prison and jail population, eliminate unwarranted racial disparities, and improve safety for victims and our community at large.


The LA County Auditor-Controller’s Office is looking into the finances of a scandal-plagued Long Beach group home run by Bayfront Youth and Family Services after a “risk assessment” of the county’s group homes drew auditors’ attention to Bayfront.

The group home, which is designated a Level 14 (the most restrictive level), is scheduled shut its doors at the end of October after a CA Department of Social Services investigation validated reports of foster kids running away, abuse from staff members, and more. LA County Probation also conducted an investigation, and in July, barred the group home from admitting any new kids.

No details about what the Auditor-Controller is looking for have been revealed. Bayfront’s yearly operational budget is $6.7 million.

In 2014, Bayfront CEO Maryam Ribadu’s salary was $192,000, more than twice as high as the next highest-paid employee, and more than double Ribadu’s 2011 salary. And a 2011 audit of Bayfront spending found that the group home had not returned more than $36,000 in county funds that were supposed to pay for services that the home did not provide to the kids.

Foster care advocates continue to be concerned about a lack of group homes that provide a nurturing and safe environment to foster children.

Over the weekend, California Governor Jerry Brown signed a far-reaching bill to dump the current problematic group home model in favor of Short-Term Residential Treatment Centers, which will have to meet much higher standards of care than today’s group homes.

ProPublica’s Joaquin Sapien, who has been reporting on the ongoing troubles at Bayfront, has the story. Here’s a clip:

Federal tax forms and state budget records show that Bayfront operates on a $6.7 million dollar annual budget drawn primarily from county contracts and state grants. Roughly two-thirds of the money is used to pay the home’s more than 100 staff members; the rest, the records say, is spent mostly on repairs, maintenance, and food and clothing for the children.


A number of audits have unearthed trouble at Los Angeles group homes and foster care centers in recent years. The Los Angeles Times has reported that Los Angeles County group home and foster care administrators have been caught spending taxpayer dollars on cigarettes, beer, perfume, fine china and other personal expenses. Between 2000 and 2010, auditors found that foster care operators had misspent more than $11 million dollars.

In the last year, the directors of two separate group homes have been charged with embezzlement by the Los Angeles County District Attorney. In September, a couple who ran a home called Little People’s World, pleaded guilty to embezzling or misappropriating thousands of dollars. The former chief executive is set to spend six months in jail.

In April, the financial director and executive director of a group home called Moore’s Cottage were charged with embezzling more than $100,000 from their nonprofit organization and filing false tax returns. The pair pled not guilty and they are set to begin pre-trial hearings in November.

In both cases, the Los Angeles Department of Children and Family Services had been alerted to evidence of misspending years before it took enforcement action and referred the cases to the district attorney’s office for prosecution.

Posted in LAPD | No Comments »

Criminal Justice Bills, Stopping Mass Shootings Before They Start, and Tasers

October 6th, 2015 by Taylor Walker


Over the weekend, CA Governor Jerry Brown signed (and vetoed) a number of notable criminal justice-related bills we have been following at WLA.

Also among the ranks of passed bills was SB 261, a bill to expand the age of eligibility for early parole hearings to include lifers whose crimes were committed before the age of 23. (In 2013, Gov. Jerry Brown signed a law that gave a second chance at parole to kids who committed murder before the age of 18 and were sentenced to life-without-parole. SB 261 extends the reach of that 2013 bill.)

The bill was sponsored by the Anti-Recidivism Coalition (ARC), Human Rights Watch (HRW), National Center for Youth Law (NCYL), and Youth Justice Coalition (YJC).

“If a young person demonstrates personal growth and rehabilitation, and shows remorse for their crime, they deserve a second chance,” says ARC Founder and President Scott Budnick. “This new law holds young people accountable for the mistakes they have made, but also offers them compassion and the opportunity to begin contributing positively to their communities.”

“California’s new law acknowledges that young adults who have done wrong are still developing in ways that makes a real turnaround possible,” said Elizabeth Calvin, senior children’s rights advocate at HRW. “This law gives imprisoned young offenders hope and the motivation to work hard toward parole.”

A bill to ban strip searches of kids in juvenile detention by (or in front of) members of the opposite gender was also signed into law on Saturday. The bill, AB 303, was introduced in response to reports of San Diego juvie detention officers pepper spraying young inmates who refused to be searched by staff of the opposite gender.

Another new law, AB 256, will protect people who record law enforcement-involved incidents on their phones. The bill, authored by Assemblyman Reggie Jones-Sawyer (D-Los Angeles), will make video evidence tampering a felony offense punishable by a maximum sentence of five years in prison.

Other notable signings include a bill that will require law enforcement agencies to provide the DOJ with detailed use of force reports and data, a bill to curb prosecutorial misconduct, two bills to boost mental health training for law enforcement, and a mental health diversion bill.


A bill by Sen. Cathleen Galgiani (D-Stockton), SB 333, would have bumped possession of date rape drugs with intent to commit a sexual assault from a misdemeanor to a mandatory felony offense.

Brown also vetoed SB 722, a bill by Sen. Patricia Bates (R-Laguna Niguel), that would have made it a felony for sex offenders on parole to remove or tamper with their GPS tracking devices.

Expressing her disappointment at the veto, Sen. Bates said, “If anyone deserves to serve longer prison terms, then it should be violent sex offenders who tamper with their GPS devices.”

And SB 347 would have added two non-violent misdemeanors—gun theft and bringing ammunition to school—to the list of crimes disqualifying gun ownership. The bill was authored by Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson (D-Santa Barbara).

The governor vetoed a several other bills that would have created new crimes, saying, “Over the last several decades, California’s criminal code has grown to more than 5,000 separate provisions, covering almost every conceivable form of human misbehavior. During the same period, our jail and prison populations have exploded.”

“Before we keep going down this road,” continued Brown, “I think we should pause and reflect on how our system of criminal justice could be made more human, more just and more cost-effective.”


Mother Jones’ Mark Follman has an excellent longread on threat assessment teams and how they root out and prevent school shootings.

Threat assessment teams comprised of cops, psychologists, and counselors, successfully divert and treat young people at risk of harming others via a strategy that includes identifying and quickly and carefully evaluating a person’s risk of harming others, followed by intervention efforts like counseling, mentoring, and other services.

It’s rare that a team has to go so far as to hospitalize or arrest a person.

The risk assessment is an interesting and complicated process for law enforcement officers, especially because their subject has committed no crime.

Mass shootings are nearly always carefully planned—usually by a young white male in the midst of a mental health crisis. These massacres are not impulsive crimes.

The concept of multidisciplinary efforts to prevent mass killings began as an LAPD response to public outrage after 21-year-old actress named Rebecca Schaeffer was fatally shot by an obsessive fan.

The specialized teams seem to be working, for the most part. According to the FBI, of the hundreds of subjects its team has tracked, only one has gone on to harm someone else. But cases still slip through the cracks, and it’s hard to tell when a person no longer needs the intervention services. Some of the monitored young people who appear well and out of crisis mode still go on to commit those mass murders, just years later.

Colorado theater shooter, James Holmes, and Jared Loughner, who shot Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and 18 others in Arizona, were both evaluated by threat assessment teams before their rampages.

One troubled Oregon teen, Erik Ayala, whom law enforcement found to be contemplating shooting fellow classmates, received years of help and mentorship from an assessment team. The team believed they had successfully navigated Ayala through his crisis and diverted him from a path of violence, but years after his intervention, Ayala went out and killed teens very similar to those he targeted in high school.

Here’s the opening from Mark Follman’s story on the assessment teams, the copycat killer trend known as the “Columbine effect,” and gun control (but do go read the rest):

Soon after the school year started in September 2000, a police officer working at McNary High in Keizer, Oregon, got a tip about a junior named Erik Ayala. The 16-year-old had told another student that “he was mad at ‘preps’ and was going to bring a gun in.” Ayala struck the officer as quiet, depressed. He confided that “he was not happy with school or with himself” but insisted he had no intention of hurting others. Two months later, Ayala tried to kill himself by swallowing a fistful of Aleve tablets. He was admitted to a private mental health facility in Portland, where he was diagnosed with “numerous mental disorders,” according to the police officer’s report.

To most people, Ayala’s suicide attempt would have looked like a private tragedy. But for a specialized team of psychologists, counselors, and cops, it set off alarm bells. They were part of a pioneering local program, launched after the Columbine school massacre the prior year, to identify and deter kids who might turn violent. Before Ayala was released from the hospital, the Salem-Keizer school district’s threat assessment team interviewed his friends, family, and teachers. They uncovered additional warning signs: In his school notebooks, Ayala had raged about feeling like an outsider and being rejected by a girl he liked. He had repeatedly told his friends that he despised “preps” and wished he could “just go out and kill a few of them.” He went online to try to buy a gun. And he’d drawn up a hit list. The names on it included his close friend Kyle, and the girl he longed for.

The threat assessment team had to decide just how dangerous Ayala might be and whether they could help turn his life around. As soon as they determined he didn’t have any weapons, they launched a “wraparound intervention”—in his case, counseling, in-home tutoring, and help pursuing his interests in music and computers.

“He was a very gifted, bright young man,” recalls John Van Dreal, a psychologist and threat assessment expert involved in the case. “A lot of what was done for him was to move him away from thinking about terrible acts.”

As the year went on, the team kept close tabs on Ayala. The school cops would strike up casual conversations with him and his buddies Kyle and Mike so they could gauge his progress and stability. A teacher Ayala admired would also do “check and connects” with him and pass on information to the team. Over the next year and a half, the high schooler’s outlook improved and the warning signs dissipated.

When Ayala graduated in 2002, the school-based team handed off his case to the local adult threat assessment team, which included members of the Salem Police Department and the county health agency. Ayala lived with his parents and got an IT job at a Fry’s Electronics. He grew frustrated that his computer skills were being underutilized and occasionally still vented to his buddies, but with continued counseling and a network of support, he seemed back on track.

The two teams “successfully interrupted Ayala’s process of planning to harm people,” Van Dreal says. “We moved in front of him and nudged him onto a path of success and safety.”

But then that path took him to another city 60 miles away, where he barely knew anyone.


In the coming months, the Los Angeles Police Department plans to equip every officer with a taser, in an effort to lower the number of officer-involved shootings. Currently the LAPD only has 3,500 tasers, and will need to buy 4,000 more to equip every police officer. Critics worry that because there are not concrete standards in place for taser-use, the tools may be misused. And while considered a “less-than-lethal” weapon, people do sometimes die after being shocked by a law enforcement officer taser. For example, Kelly Thomas, a mentally ill homeless Fullerton man died after being beaten and shocked multiple times by police officers.

KPCC’s Frank Stoltze has more on the issue. Here’s a clip:

“I think it’s a good idea,” said Craig Lally, president of the Los Angeles Police Protective League, the union that represents rank and file officers.

“There might be a situation where a Taser would be effective in stopping the threat, and then you don’t have to go to your firearm,” he said.

It stands to reason that the availability of less than lethal weapons like Tasers and beanbag shotguns prevent police shootings. But its impossible to say for sure, said Lally. And many shootings will still happen.

“You’re not going to shoot a guy with a Taser when he’s got a gun.”

One use of force expert said there is no doubt police will shoot fewer people.

“I think there’s quite a number of incidents over the years that clearly could have been prevented had a Taser been immediately available,” said Greg Meyer, a former LAPD captain who now testifies on police use of force in court cases around the country.

This is “long overdue,” Meyer said of the LAPD’s new policy.

He noted Tasers don’t always work. Two electronic probes must make contact with the suspect. The LAPD’s Murphy said internal studies found Tasers work about 67 percent of the time.

Posted in Edmund G. Brown, Jr. (Jerry), juvenile justice, LAPD | No Comments »

Veterans in Jail, the New Prez of the LAPD Commission, and LAPD Chief Beck on Body Cams

September 17th, 2015 by Taylor Walker


At the Vista Detention Facility in San Diego County, veterans who find themselves on the wrong side of the law are placed in “modules” focused on healing, rather than punishing, men who are wrestling with any combination of PTSD, substance abuse, and homelessness.

The jail’s two modules, specifically tailored to the unique needs of veterans, offer vets a chance to deal with the struggles of life after active duty that helped put them behind bars. Vista’s vet modules provides a level of discipline and routine that’s familiar and comforting to the former military men, as well as daily classes, yoga, therapy, and the company of other veterans (even the guards are vets).

Note: currently, there are no comparable offerings in the US for female vets, who are subject to the same war-related traumas as their male counterparts.

The Crime Report’s Katti Gray has more on the Vista veterans program. Here’s a clip:

A year—to the day—after his baby brother was shot dead in a Kansas prairie town, German Villegas’ best buddy in Afghanistan was killed by a bomb he’d been ordered to find and defuse.

“We were both on the list to search for explosives,” Villegas recalled.

But U.S. Marine Corps Cpl. Michael J. Palacios was the one dispatched that day in November 2012. “He got hit by a 200-pound IED,” two months before both men were slated to go home, Villegas said.

Villegas returned stateside, a shattered man.

“My number-one goal was to get drunk and just try to forget everything,” said the 23-year-old, who joined the Marines straight out of high school and spent five years there. Fired from the military police, he was shunted into what he calls “punitive duties” that had him cleaning up after battalion officers and picking up trash.

But the worst were the funeral details.

“(That) was the completely wrong thing for me to have to do,” he continued. “Every time I did one of these funerals, I’m seeing these families crying. I became pretty good at compartmentalizing—or so I thought.”

Villegas was sitting that afternoon in the communal area outside an all-male cell block at a San Diego County Sheriff’s Department jail, where he landed after being arrested for an assault on his fiancée. A few feet away, at the Vista Detention Facility, stood one of the armed deputy sheriffs, also a veteran, who asked to be assigned to that cell block. Just beyond that deputy was a Marine Corps retiree and correctional counselor who directs Vista’s almost two-year-old Veterans Moving Forward Program.

One of a handful of such projects in the United States, the program makes available to convicted ex-military men and those awaiting trial—including those like Villegas who’ve been diagnosed with mental illness—counseling, peer-to-peer support and other amenities rarely extended to people behind bars.

Minutes before Villegas gave a visitor his take on what war extracts from combatants and innocents alike, he had queued up at a nurse’s cart, where anti-psychotic and other prescribed drugs were dispensed to jailed veterans with mental illnesses. (Those with only physical ailments also filled their prescriptions.)

Villegas’ meds are intended to help him stave off anxiety, depression and the flashbacks, nightmares, hyper-arousal, hyper-alertness and exponential moodiness that are among the symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder. Such maladies are likely what triggered his admitted episode of violence. For Villegas, like so many other criminally charged veterans, had no history of illegal activity prior to military service.

“Jail is the last place I thought I would end up and the last place I thought I would find help, but this program has become a foundation that I can trust,” Villegas said. “The moment I came here and saw those military flags on the walls, it brought me to tears. There’s a brotherhood here … and there are things here that I need to restore my mental health, to get whole again.”


Matt Johnson, the newest Los Angeles Police Department commission president, also happens to be the only black member of the commission tasked with overseeing the LAPD.

When Johnson was growing up in New Jersey in the 80′s, he said he was on the receiving end of both racial prejudice from law enforcement officers and kindness from the cops who were friends with his dad. Johnson says this gives him the perspective needed to take on police-community relations issues.

But some community members criticize LA Mayor Eric Garcetti’s appointment of Johnson, who is an entertainment lawyer, instead of someone who is a grassroots community advocate.

The LA Times’ Kate Mather has the story. Here’s a clip:

Richard Drooyan, a former Police Commission president, said the board’s role as the “eyes and ears of the community” is particularly important at this moment given the public desire for increased accountability of police. Johnson, he said, must be “willing to criticize when mistakes are made and support the department when the department is right.”

In one of its most important roles, the board decides whether police shootings and other serious uses of force were appropriate. It’s a responsibility that has come under greater scrutiny as police officers across the country have increasingly been criticized for how they use force, particularly against black men.

Activists have blasted the LAPD and commissioners for some of the police shootings in Los Angeles. LAPD officers have shot 28 people so far this year, half of whom were killed.

Some of the most vocal critics are affiliated with the Black Lives Matter movement, including some who denounced Mayor Eric Garcetti for putting Johnson on the Police Commission. They said they wanted an anti-gang activist on the board instead of another person who donated to Garcetti’s campaign.

When asked about the criticism, Johnson said the Black Lives Matter movement had “shined a light on very important issues.”

“The bottom line is, there is an alarming number of African Americans across our country who have been killed by police,” Johnson said. “A large part of the reason that I agreed to join the commission is that I’m concerned about it, and I believe I can play a positive role in reducing those incidents.”

Paula Madison, the outgoing commissioner who has been the board’s only African American member since 2013, described Johnson as a friend who works with quiet deliberation, someone who understood the impact he could have as a black man on the Police Commission.

“If you get the opportunity to help set policies, you take it very seriously,” she said. “And knowing Matt, he’s going to take this very seriously.”

Head over to Mathers’ story to read more about Johnson’s background and what he hopes to accomplish while serving as a commissioner.


On Wednesday’s on Air Talk, host Larry Mantle talked with LAPD Chief Charlie Beck about how the department’s implementation of officer body cameras is going, so far, and about recent pushback from the ACLU about when and how much video footage should be released to the public. The ACLU has asked the Department of Justice not to contribute funding to the LAPD’s body cam program because the department will not be actively releasing video showing officer-involved shootings.

Here’s Chief Beck’s response:

Well, the ACLU is welcome to offer whatever recommendations they want to whoever they want, but I don’t agree with them, I don’t think the federal government will agree with them either. Body cameras, and I’m wearing one right now as we talk and you can see it, are an evidence-collection tool, just like detectives are, just like the coroner’s investigation is, just like many many pieces of an investigation. We don’t release investigations piecemeal. Body camera footage is available for review by the district attorney, by the city attorney, by a civil court, by a criminal court, and in cases of uses of force that rise to the appropriate level, by the civilian police commission. So there are multiple levels of review, and to merely put video into the public without further investigatory information I think is inappropriate.

Of course, the concern is that the department is going to release the video when it suits its interests, not so quick to do so when it makes the department the gatekeeper. How do you respond to that concern?

I respond to it by looking at my track record. I’ve been Chief for five years now. We’ve had in-car video for that whole time, and I haven’t released that video when it supports my position or when it is detrimental to my position or to the department. I use it as part of the investigation; it is not something I use to form public opinion. It’s an investigative tool. That is not to say that I would never release video. If the state of the city depends on it, then that would weigh heavily on my decision. But in the day-to-day incidents of policing. One of the things I like to remind folks is that when you call the Los Angeles Police Department, it’s not on your best day. It never is. We go to your house. There may have been a domestic incident. You may have been the victim of a crime. It could be any number of circumstances. None of which you want put in the public domain. At least, all of the victims I’ve ever talked to. And so we want to be very circumspect, we want to be the guardians of the public trust. When people interact with the police, I think they have a right to some privacy in that condition.

Posted in Charlie Beck, LAPD, PTSD, Veterans | 8 Comments »

“Evolution of a Criminal,” Solitary Confinement Pt. 2, LAPD Community Guardians, and the Beneficiaries of Prop 47

August 25th, 2015 by Taylor Walker

Darius Clark Monroe was a 16-year-old honors student in Texas until he robbed a bank with a shotgun in a foolish attempt to bring his family out of extreme financial hardship.

In an award-winning PBS documentary, filmmaker Darius Monroe talks about the circumstances that led to his decision and asks his victims for forgiveness.

As a teenager, Darius says he did not think of the repercussions when he robbed the bank: the psychological harm done to the bank employees and customers present for the robbery, and the pain inflicted upon his tight-knit family and upon himself.

You can watch the whole documentary on PBS’ website until Sept. 11.


The second installment in a three-part NPR series on solitary confinement in US prisons takes a look at the prison system in New Mexico where officials are working to reverse the state’s overuse of isolation. New Mexico has made real progress: 6% of the prison population is in solitary confinement this year, compared with 10% in 2013. But as the numbers creep lower, the task becomes more challenging, says Gregg Marcantel, head of New Mexico’s prison system. (We pointed to the first here.)

Here’s a clip from Natasha Haverty’s story for NPR:

In New Mexico, many low-risk inmates were moved out of solitary. The men still housed in isolation can now earn their way out in nine months with good behavior. That’s still more time in solitary than most reform advocates and most mental health experts support, but not so long ago, New Mexico’s solitary unit was packed with inmates who were thrown into cells “and then we really had no clear-cut way to get them out of there,” says Gregg Marcantel, head of New Mexico’s prison system. He says when he came in as corrections secretary four years ago, that heavy reliance on solitary had been unquestioned for decades.

“It’s very, very easy to overuse segregation. I mean, for a guy like me it’s safe, right? It’s safe — if these prisons are quiet, I don’t get fired,” he says.

One of Marcantel’s new programs gives prisoners the chance to live in a more open group setting if they swear off their gang affiliations.

For corrections leaders like Marcantel trying to change the system, it’s a struggle to get it right. None of his reforms get rid of solitary. He says he can’t see it ever going away.

“But i­n a perfect world, one that maybe involves unicorns, yeah, I would love to get rid of it,” he says.

So far, New Mexico’s first steps toward change seem to be working. Two years ago, 10 percent of the state’s prison population was in solitary. That’s down to 6 percent this year.


The Los Angeles Police Department is conducting a series of five-hour training (or retraining) sessions in the wake of controversial officer-involved shootings in LA and across the nation.

The LA Times’ Kate Mather sat in on some of the LAPD training lectures, which emphasized replacing the “warrior” culture of the 70′s and 80′s with a mindset shift to “guardian” of communities. (WLA pointed to another story exploring this issue here.)

Here are some clips from Mathers’ story:

“We were warriors,” Deputy Chief Bill Scott recently told a room filled with LAPD rank-and-file officers, a group of fresh-faced rookies watching from the front.

Now, he said, officers need to think of themselves as guardians watching over communities — not warriors cracking down on them.

“That means if we’ve got to take somebody to jail, we’ll take them to jail,” Scott said. “But when we need to be empathetic and we need to be human, we’ve got to do that too.”


The five-hour lectures in Los Angeles have covered matters such as the way officers should interact with people who are mentally ill, how they can build community trust, when they are permitted to curse while dealing with the public and why they should avoid walking with a swagger. Department brass emphasized that public perceptions of police can be influenced by the way officers treat residents during their daily work.

Scott warned one group assembled at a department pistol range that the brash attitudes some officers have — “I’m the cop, you’re not” — can appear disrespectful. “That’s one of the biggest problems that we have,” he said. “How we talk to people.”

In an Eastside auditorium, Deputy Chief Jose Perez told a crowd of Hollenbeck officers that just because department policy allowed them to curse at uncooperative suspects — the LAPD calls it “tactical language” — they shouldn’t automatically use foul language when walking up to someone.

“It doesn’t let you go up to them, when you’re getting out of the car, and you go: ‘Hey … come here,’” Perez said, using a profanity. “We use it because we have to, not because you can or because you want to.”

When and how officers should use force was another key focus. Police were reminded to be patient with people who may be mentally ill and to try to build a dialogue in an effort to avoid using force to take them into custody.

In one session, officers were implored to carry less-lethal devices such as a Taser or beanbag shotgun in their patrol cars, so the option is always available. The department does not require all officers to carry less-lethal devices.

Last week, the LA Times’ Patt Morrison interviewed Deputy Chief Bill Murphy on the evolution of training within the department. (WLA linked to it here.)


During her 20s, Sholanda Jackson was incarcerated 13 times because of an addiction Sholanda’s mother sparked by giving her crack cocaine as a teenager.

A poster child for rehabilitation, Sholanda has now been sober 11 years, has a degree, and works at a non-profit.

Thanks to California’s Proposition 47, which reclassified certain non-serious felonies as misdemeanors, former offenders like Sholanda are receiving a second chance—one that will free them from the stigma of old felony convictions, and help them secure employment, as well as government assistance.

KQED’s Marisa Lagos has more on the issue, including the story of Sofala Mayfield, another former felon who received a second chance through Prop 47. Here’s a clip:

His life began to fall apart in his teens, after his grandmother suffered a stroke and his mother fell back into drug addiction. After a series of minor run-ins with the law as a teenager, he was convicted of felony theft two years ago for stealing an iPhone.

Mayfield has three younger siblings that live with him. But he said when he got out of jail, he couldn’t find a job.

“I didn’t get any calls back, I would call them back — our hiring manager’s not in, you know. I just had a feeling that’s what it was, just me having the felony on my record and stuff,” he said.

At the urging of his probation officer, Mayfield called the public defender’s office and asked if he would qualify to reduce his felony to a misdemeanor under Prop. 47. Within a month, a court had approved the change.

He now has two jobs, is helping support his family and hopes to go to culinary school.

“I was just very grateful,” he said.

Posted in juvenile justice, LAPD | No Comments »

Harm-Focused Policing, LAPD Training and Retraining, the Mayor of New Orleans, and Tom Carey’s Guilty Plea

August 20th, 2015 by Taylor Walker


In a paper published on Friday in the journal Ideas in American Policing, Temple University criminal justice professor Jerry Ratcliffe outlines the difference between a “crime and disorder” focused policing strategy and another method he calls “harm-focused policing,” which redirects police resources and strategies toward the detrimental effects of crime on a community

Targeting issues that affect poor minority communities, like substance abuse, emotional health, and gang recruitment would go beyond the symptoms to get at the “why” of the crimes.

Switching the focus would more accurately represent communities’ concerns, says Jerry Ratcliffe, a criminal justice professor at Temple University and the paper’s author, and would help to change the relationship between cops and poor minority communities: “Where police can often see only crime and disorder, community experiences are more nuanced and diverse.”

While it can be difficult to quantify harm, the paper says there are ways to identify places and people that are especially harmful to communities.

Here’s a clip from the paper:

The range of community anxieties is often heartbreaking, ranging from the day-to-day incivilities that sap community cohesion, to concerns about root causes of crime, drugs, speeding traffic, environmental conditions, community dissolution and the harms associated with gang recruitment of young children. It is not uncommon to hear concerns about the lack of police attention to a neighborhood in the same meeting as complaints about the detrimental impacts of excessive and unfocused police attention on the wrong people. While there are correlations between increased police activity and lower neighborhood violence (see for example Koper & Mayo-Wilson, 2006; Ratcliffe, Taniguchi, Groff, & Wood, 2011), the negative consequences of repeated police contacts are now being more widely understood.

The paper also says the controversial practice of “stop, question, and frisk” (or “stop and frisk”) should be included in the harm index calculations as something that can hurt police-community relations:

The crime reduction benefits of increased pedestrian investigations (sometimes referred to in general as ‘stop, question and frisk’ [SQF]) remain a matter of some dispute (Rosenfeld & Fornango, 2014), and the tactic itself remains highly controversial with the public concerned about both the disproportionate impact on minority communities and potential reduction in police legitimacy. Even Braga and Weisburd, two of the strongest advocates of hot spots policing, accept that ‘It seems likely that overly aggressive and indiscriminate police crackdowns would produce some undesirable effects’ (2010: 188).

Given the potential for harm stemming from unrestrained used of SQF, inclusion of a weighting for each pedestrian or vehicle investigative stop has a number of benefits. First, it acts as a constraint against unfocused and unrestricted use of SQF by over-eager police commanders desperate to reduce crime in a location. The right weighting3 would still sanction use of the tactic, but ideally encourage a focused and targeted application because each stop would count against the area’s harm index. In this way a calculation of cost-benefit ratio would determine if the anticipated crime and harm reduction benefits sufficiently offset any potential loss of police legitimacy and community support. Second, this would send a signal that the police are cognizant of the potential for pedestrian and vehicle investigative stops to impact police-community relations and that they are aware that some police tactics come with an associated cost. Third, having a price associated with investigative stops may generate improved data collection of stops, which will have a corollary benefit, allowing departments to better assess their vulnerability to accusations of racial profiling.


In an interview with the LA Times’ Patt Morrison, Deputy Chief William Murphy, who is the head of the Los Angeles Police Department’s Police Sciences and Training Bureau, talked about how much LAPD training has evolved from a decade ago, how the Sandra Bland tragedy might have turned out differently, and how LA officers are taught to conduct traffic stops and mental health crisis calls.

Here’s a clip (but do yourself a favor and read the whole thing):

What is the LAPD training for a traffic stop?

In the academy, before we teach anything, we ask, “Have you ever been stopped by the police?” Everybody’s hands go up. [They say] the officer was kind of rude. We say: “Remember that before we teach you how to do a traffic stop. What if it was your mother? Your sister? Is that how you’d want someone to treat them?”

In California, we teach an eight-step traffic stop. The first four are critical: The initial thing is the greeting — a smile, say, “Good morning, I’m Officer Bill Murphy of the LAPD.” When people ask for business cards, you give it to them — that’s our policy. When you do this [he points to his nameplate] and say, “This is me,” you’re just getting them mad.

Then you explain the reason for the stop. In some of these traffic stops that go south, they’ve left out some of these components. The goal of a traffic stop is to educate, not irritate. You pull somebody over for running a stop sign to have a conversation to change their behavior.

Watch the tapes and you notice officers — not from California — don’t ask [the driver], “Why would you do that?” I’ve had people tell me, “My wife’s at the hospital delivering my first baby” or “I just got fired today and my head’s not in the game.” You give them an opportunity to explain before you make a decision whether or not to write a ticket.

Then [as the last step], you say have a good day; you always end on a positive note.

The Sandra Bland traffic arrest apparently escalated when an officer got testy because she wouldn’t put out her cigarette; it ended with Bland allegedly hanging herself in a jail cell.

You have to think, is [the driver] a threat to you, or are you just irritated because they happen to be having a cigarette? If you think they’re really a threat, that’s a different situation. I’ve gotten pulled over, and as a police officer, my heart still races. [Bland was] probably just nervous, smoking her cigarette.

We teach don’t be the “contempt of cop” cop. Usually, you get contempt of cop when your emotions take over, when the goal becomes something other than educating, like, “You’re not respecting my authority.”

We’re lucky: About 98% of our police vehicles are two-person. If the [first officer] for whatever reason isn’t making that connection and it’s getting heated, we tell them to switch roles right away. Say, “Hey, partner, let me take this over,” as opposed to getting into a confrontation.

I was asked about the video of the Cincinnati incident [a campus police officer shot an unarmed man during a traffic stop; the officer has been indicted for murder]. You need to control your emotions and stress level so you don’t overreact. When you overreact, you can see a threat that’s really not there.


The Altantic’s Jeffery Goldberg has a great longread about New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu who is on a crusade to cut down on the level of homicides in his city. Landrieu’s particular focus is on the “epidemic of young African American men killing young African American men.”

One of Mayor Landrieu’s innovative violence diversion programs, NOLA for Life, initiates “call-ins” where around 20 men between the ages of 16-24 who are likely to shoot or be shot, and who have had contact with the justice system, are called into court without explanation.

Landrieu addresses the gathered boys and young men, who are either doing a short stint in jail or are on probation, and introduces two groups of people who have come to speak with them and help them—on one side, representatives from every local and federal law enforcement agency, on the other, social workers and counselors ready to help the attendees and connect them with services and resources.

Landrieu tells the young men gathered in front of him, that if they leave the courthouse and make wrong choices they will have further contact with the law enforcement agencies in attendance, but if they choose correctly, Landrieu says, “I’ll make a commitment to you that you’re going to go to the front of the line: if you need a job, if you need mental-health, substance-abuse counseling, if you say you need something, the folks on this side of the room will listen to you, talk to you, help you.”

NOLA for Life also features mental health services, substance abuse treatment, and job training. And teams of counselors, including former gang members, are dispatched to ERs to convince family members of shooting victims not to seek revenge.

“i want people to tell me whether or not they think that the lives of poor young African American men that live in certain communities in every city—whether their lives matter…that’s all I want to know: that the answer to that is ‘yes’.”

Here’s a clip:

“It’s a roll of the dice. People get out of Central City, they do,” Landrieu told me recently. “But many don’t. If life had gone differently for Joseph Norfleet and James Darby, who knows? Joseph Norfleet could have been that 9-year-old victim. Maybe Joseph Norfleet would be dead and James Darby would be in prison today. We see this so often—today’s shooter is tomorrow’s victim.”

The prison [Angola], 130 miles from New Orleans, could legitimately be considered the city’s most distant neighborhood. Of the roughly 6,300 men currently imprisoned at Angola—three-quarters of them there for life, and nearly 80 percent of them African American—about 2,000 at any given moment are from New Orleans. Thousands of children in New Orleans—a city whose population today is roughly 380,000—have fathers who will reside until death in Angola.

“This place will bring you to your knees,” Landrieu said.


“What you’re going to see is a huge governing failure on the part of our society. This country has the highest incarceration rate in the world, and Louisiana has the highest incarceration rate in the country. That’s failure.”

Landrieu visits Angola on occasion to learn more about a crisis that has come to consume him. He decided, early in his first term, to devote the resources of his city to solving one of this country’s most diabolical challenges—the persistence of homicide in poor African American communities. The numbers are staggering. From 1980 to 2013, 262,000 black males were killed in America. By contrast, roughly 58,000 Americans died in Vietnam. In New Orleans, about 6,000 African American men have been murdered since 1980. The killers of these men were, in the vast majority of cases, other African American men. In New Orleans, 80 percent of murder victims are believed to have known their killer.


As we drove to Angola, I asked Landrieu why he has made homicide—a seemingly ineradicable disease in a gun-saturated country whose popular culture glorifies violence—his chief priority.

“I didn’t grab this. This problem grabbed me,” he said. “I guess you could say I’m obsessed with it. I don’t understand why it’s okay in America—a country that’s supposed to be the greatest country in the world, a place with more wealth than anywhere else—for us to leave so many of our citizens basically dead. Why do we allow our citizens to kill each other as if it’s the cost of doing business? We have basically given up on our African American boys. I’d be a cold son of a bitch if I ignored it, if I just focused on the other side of town, or focused just on tourism.

“I’m absolutely certain we have the money and the capacity to solve this problem, but we do not have the will. This problem doesn’t touch enough Americans to rise to the level of a national crisis. But these are all our children. I’m embarrassed by it. How could this be normal?”


On Wednesday, former Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department Captain William “Tom” Carey officially changed his plea to guilty in the obstruction of justice trial involving the hiding of a federal informant from the FBI.

Standing before US District Judge Percy Anderson, Carey pled guilty to one count of perjury. In exchange, three separate charges of obstruction of justice, conspiracy to obstruct justice, and another count of lying on the witness stand, are to be dismissed.

In return, Carey will have to fully cooperate with the feds and provide testimony in related trials, including that of his co-defendant, former Undersheriff Paul Tanaka, and that of former Sheriff Lee Baca, who has not been indicted, but may be federal prosecutors’ next target.

ABC7′s Miriam Hernandez and Lisa Bartley were there in court and have the story. Here are some clips:

Former Sheriff Leroy “Lee” Baca might be getting nervous right about now.

Retired Captain William “Tom” Carey, 57, officially changed his plea to guilty on Wednesday, becoming the highest-ranking Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department official to flip in the years-long federal investigation.

“Guilty,” Carey stated under oath as he stood before Judge Percy Anderson alongside his defense attorney Andrew Stolper.

Carey cut a deal with prosecutors that requires total cooperation with law enforcement as they forge ahead in their investigation of corruption and inmate abuse inside county jails, which are run by the LASD.

Speculation is growing that Baca, who abruptly resigned in January 2014, could be in the crosshairs of federal prosecutors.

“We’ve seen in the investigation of this case that the prosecution has been trying to go as high as they can, even to the sheriff himself,” said Laurie Levenson, a Loyola Law School professor and former federal prosecutor.

Carey’s co-defendant, former LASD Undersheriff Paul Tanaka, goes on trial this November for his alleged role in the scheme to block the FBI investigation.


Carey’s plea deal means that three felony counts — obstruction of justice, conspiracy to obstruct justice and one count of making false statements — will be dismissed.

Carey pleaded guilty to one count of making another false statement, which points to what prosecutors say was the true motivation for hiding Brown from the FBI.

At the trial of Deputy James Sexton in May 2014, Carey testified that there was no other reason to move Brown other than for his own safety.

Carey now admits that was a lie because he “knew that the deputies ordered to stand guard over Inmate AB during this time were there, at least in part, so that the FBI could not have access to Inmate AB unless there was an order from co-defendant Tanaka or another LASD executive that would have allowed access.”

Carey’s cooperation agreement means he is likely to testify against Tanaka at his upcoming trial, although defense attorneys are sure to attack Carey’s credibility now that he’s admitted to previously lying on the witness stand.

Posted in LAPD, LASD, law enforcement, Sheriff Lee Baca, Violence Prevention | 29 Comments »

Watts Riots 50th Anniversary News Roundup….Are Crime Rates Really Rising?….and Coroner’s Inquests

August 14th, 2015 by Taylor Walker


As America marks the 50th anniversary of the 1965 Watts riots this week, here are some stories we didn’t want you to miss:

Veteran TV journalist Tom Brokaw, who covered the aftermath of the Watts riots 50 years ago for NBC, says positive changes have taken place in the neighborhood, including community policing efforts, but Watts is still very much “separate and unequal.”

The LA Times has a ton of worthwhile coverage (more than twenty stories, so far) of the anniversary, including an interview with one of the few black cops in LAPD before and during the riots, quotes dug up from the LA Times’ 1965 archives, the story of Noah Purifoy’s art made from the charred wreckage of Watts, what the ’65 LA Times editorial board had to say about the six days of rioting that left 34 people dead.

Fifty years later, the 2015 editorial board takes a look at what lessons LA has (and hasn’t) learned since then. (Read more of what today’s editorial board has to say about Watts—here and here.)

The Times also compiled a list of essential literature born of the Watts riots, featuring: “A Journey Into the Mind of Watts” by Thomas Pynchon, “The New Centurions” by 1960′s LAPD officer Joseph Wambaugh, and one of our favorites at WLA, the mystery, “Little Scarlet,” by Walter Mosley.

Mosley, who was twelve years old in 1965, shares his memories of the riots in an NPR interview. Here’s a clip:

MONTAGNE: Walter Mosley went on to create the classic character Detective Easy Rawlins in a series of noir novels set in Watts. In 1965, Mosley was 12 years old and a member of an acting troupe that performed plays about civil rights, which is how he found himself in the middle of what some called an uprising.

MOSLEY: The main night of that riot, the apex of the riot, we went down to the little theater on Santa Barbara, now called Martin Luther King, to do our play. But nobody came because, you know, people were rioting. So either they were rioting or they were in their houses hiding from rioting. And we had to drive out. And driving out, we drove through the riots.

MONTAGNE: Do you remember what you saw? I mean, were you scared?

MOSLEY: I was scared, you know, because, number one, it was an interracial group, so, you know, there were a couple of white people in the car. And they were, like, on the floor. And – you know, and then you would see things – you know, people jumping out of windows, you know, like – you know, they were looting. I saw one guy just lying out on the street. I don’t know what happened to him. The police were driving by, four deep in a car with their shotguns held up, but they weren’t shooting. They were just passing through.

You could feel the rage. You know, you could feel that civilization, at that moment, was in tatters. And when I got home, my father was sitting in a chair in the living room, which he never did, drinking vodka and just staring. And I said, Dad, what’s wrong?

Go listen to the rest.

Another LA author and activist, Earl Ofari Hutchinson, in an op-ed for the Huffington Post, talks about what he saw and experienced as an 18-year-old during the riots and what has changed since 1965.

And until the 17th (the end of the riots), you can experience a unconventional live-tweet reenactment of the deadly week-long upheaval by @WattsRiots50.


In the midst of much media attention on crime spikes in states across the US, the Brennan Center for Justice’s Matthew Friedman says the recent crime rate upswings are still part of a longterm downward trend.

LA, NYC, Chicago, DC, and other big cities have recorded higher crime stats over the past few months. And there are many different theories as to what’s behind the changes.

LA County Sheriff Jim McDonnell blamed the higher crime rate on the passage and implementation of Prop 47—which reclassified certain low-level felonies as misdemeanors.

And during LA Mayor Eric Garcetti’s State of the City address in April, he announced a new elite metro unit would patrol crime hotspots in response to a rise in violent crime rates during the first part of 2015 in Los Angeles.

Friedman says that instead of focusing on short-term fluctuations, it’s important to take a step back, and look at the prevailing trend over a period of years, rather than months.

Even a cursory study of murder totals over the past two decades shows a clear downward trend in the number of murders committed in America’s three largest cities. A “trend” indicates the general direction something moves towards. The red lines in the graphs show that the long-term trend is toward fewer homicides in all three cities.

This same trend appears in most major cities across the country.

This does not mean that crime is always decreasing in these cities; in fact you can see areas of all three graphs where crime levels rapidly increase (and rapidly decrease) over short periods of time. These fluctuations are a combination of normal seasonal cycles and random events known technically as ‘noise’. Noise denotes the transient increases and decreases attributable to happen-stance or short-run shocks, but unrelated to the long-run pattern of decreasing murder levels.

Compare New York’s annual murder totals and Chicago’s monthly totals. Both exhibit the same long-term trend: a decreasing number of murders. Also note, however, that the longer time interval used to describe New York’s homicide totals generates a smoother graph that closely tracks the trend line and is almost uniformly decreasing — making it very easy to identify that city’s crime decline. On the other hand, Chicago’s graph exhibits wild fluctuations from season to season (this is known as seasonality). Monthly totals are a great way to display homicide data if you want to understand how solstice patterns impact murder rates, but it also amplifies the cyclical and noise components of Chicago’s homicide totals — making it harder to distinguish the underlying trend.

Friedman compares the crime statistics to LeBron James’ inconsistent free-throw success rate from game-to-game between January and March of this year.

…in 14 games over three months, James’ free-throw percentage increased or decreased by more than 20 percent relative to his previous outing. In multiple instances his shooting acuity fell by half from game to game. In another, it more than doubled. To assume those spikes tell us anything about James’ basketball skills would be foolish — they are just noise.

Similarly, from day to day, month to month, or year to year, crime may rise or fall due to seasonality and noise. Only by observing these changes over a sufficient period of time can we see a trend emerge. The difficulty is figuring out how many observations are necessary to cut through the noise and show us the true trend.


Legal experts and public officials are discussing the viability of the coroner’s inquest model as an alternative to the closed-door grand jury system, as a way to promote transparency and ease tension between communities and the police after a questionable death.

Coroner’s inquests are public inquiries to determine details of a death: how and why a person was killed.

During an inquest, witnesses give testimony, but suspects don’t defend themselves, unless the coroner’s jury verdict leads local prosecutors to indict those involved.

Coroners’ inquests crop up here and there across the nation under special circumstances, but only in Montana are coroners actually required to perform an inquest after an officer-involved shooting.

The killing of 34 people during the Watts riots 50 years ago resulted in a burst of coroner’s inquests, but Los Angeles hasn’t seen an inquest in over three decades. The last coroner’s inquest in Los Angeles was held in 1981. Current LA County Medical Examiner-Coroner Mark Fajardo said he considered initiating an inquest into the death of Ezell Ford, a unarmed mentally ill man shot by LAPD officers last year, but chose not to without carefully reviewing the process.

The LA Times’ Doug Smith has more on the issue, as well as the history of the inquest in LA. Here are some clips:

At the urging of County Medical Examiner-Coroner Mark A. Fajardo, who reviewed all police shootings in his job as Riverside County coroner, the Los Angeles Board of Supervisors has asked key agency heads to rethink the review process with an eye to increasing transparency.

Fajardo, who became L.A.’s coroner in 2013, said he found it “troubling” that the office had no review procedures.

“I think the Department of Medical Examiner-Coroner should have a process that assures quality, assures efficiency and is transparent in some respect,” Fajardo said.

He said he considered calling an inquest into the Los Angeles Police Department’s fatal shooting of Ezell Ford last year, but held back because he hadn’t fully vetted the process. The county is still reviewing various options.

Some municipalities, like Clark County, NV, have successfully implemented updated versions of the inquest model.

Clark County, Nev., dropped its automatic coroner’s inquest process in 2010 after the police union successfully challenged it in court.

In its place, county commissioners set up a system that achieves some transparency at the expense of immediacy.

After every killing by police, if the district attorney finds no cause to prosecute — which has almost always been the case — the county manager convenes a hearing to examine the evidence in public. The prosecutor calls witnesses, primarily the officers who investigated the slaying. A hearing officer and ombudsman, both appointed by the county manager, can call and question witnesses in a cross-examination format, but not under oath. The officers involved in the killing do not testify.

Anyone attending the hearing can submit questions to the hearing officer or ombudsman, who is appointed to represent the public and the deceased’s family. The whole proceeding is live-streamed on the county TV station and the videos are posted on the county manager’s website.

No findings are made. “It simply concludes,” said Robert Daskas, the deputy who oversees the district attorney’s response team.

There are critics, among them the Nevada ACLU, who say the new process is toothless. But Daskas credits it for easing the tension surrounding troubling events.

“We all see the protests and the riots,” Daskas said. “I would like to think that one of the reasons we have not had issues like that in Clark County is because we provide a very transparent review of officer-involved shootings.”

MacMahon, the English economist who has studied America’s inquest tradition, finds the Clark County process an admirable compromise. He argues that it is the very toothlessness of such reviews that give them the healing power that he calls “soft adjudication,” a hearing process that is investigatory, rather than adversarial, and non-binding.

“Precisely because their verdicts do not carry binding or coercive consequences…inquests can aim more squarely than other legal proceedings at establishing the truth about a contested event,” MacMahon writes in his article.

The Watts riots news roundup was updated August 14, at 7:30p.m.

Posted in Charlie Beck, Eric Garcetti, Jim McDonnell, LAPD, LASD, literature, media, race | No Comments »

BLUE: Joe Domanick Writes About Saving the LAPD & the Crossroads of American Policing

August 10th, 2015 by Celeste Fremon

Award-winning journalist and author Joe Domanick has been a long time critic of bad policing,
particularly when it has been displayed by the Los Angeles Police Department. His fascination with—and in many ways, affection for—LA’s complicated, powerful, historically brutal and arrogant, yet often innovative and iconic police department brought us To Protect and to Serve: The LAPD’s Century of War in the City of Dreams—a deeply researched, and immensely engaging history of the agency’s first 100 years, which won its author a 1995 Edgar award for best fact-based crime.

Now Domanick has written a new book about LA’s cop shop called Blue: The LAPD and the Battle to Redeem American Policing. Stupendously timely and written with a finely calibrated understanding of the city’s history, and its unique cultural interweave, BLUE’s page-turning narrative is borne aloft by a string of vivid nonfiction characters, including, of course, the agency’s most recent chiefs, Bill Bratton and Charlie Beck. But, while the heart of the book is a grand tale of the multi-layered struggle to reform the LAPD, Domanick also uses LA’s police department as a lens through which to examine the state of U.S. policing in general, and the crossroads at which it has presently arrived.

We will talk more about Domanick and Blue in the near future. But, in the meantime, here are a couple of clips from the rave review of Domanick’s book by Mark Horowitz, the staff editor for The New York Times Op-Ed section, which appeared in Sunday’s NYT Book Review.

…Crime in Los Angeles had been increasing at twice the national average. Between 1980 and 2000, there were 11,500 gang-related homicides in Los Angeles County. “L.A.’s gangs were not simply growing but metastasizing.”

The city’s incompetent and brutal police functioned like “an army of occupation that waged war on the residents of black South L.A., Mexican East L.A. and Central American Pico-Union in the name of crime suppression.” During one operation, in South Los Angeles, 25,000 were arrested, though relatively few were charged with any crime. “It seems astounding,” Domanick writes, “that such a plan of concentrated, indiscriminate mass arrests would be executed in a major, liberal American city a quarter of a century into the post-civil-rights era.” Even the police dogs were out of control, surely a metaphor of some kind. Between 1989 and 1992, they bit 900 people, resulting in countless lawsuits.

Domanick is steeped in his city’s rich history, its fraught racial and ethnic conflicts and the complex demographics that befuddle so many outsiders. I lived there in the ’80s and ’90s, during recessions, earthquakes, the Rodney King beating and the ’92 riots: Domanick gets everything right. His brief portrait of the 1995 O.J. Simpson trial, for example, is a valuable corrective. O.J.’s lawyer Johnnie Cochran was no racial show boater, though the national media treated him like some sort of West Coast Al Sharpton. Cochran was a brilliant and highly respected local attorney who made his reputation trying police-abuse cases. “He knew what black jurors knew deep in their bones,” Domanick writes, “that racism, planting evidence, shading the truth and lying in court had been part of the Los Angeles Police Department’s modus operandi throughout its history.” The trial was always about the dysfunctional L.A.P.D., never O.J.

Validating Cochran, the decade climaxed with the infamous Rampart Division scandal. Officers were discovered to be routinely framing people, robbing and shooting them, planting evidence and stealing drugs. How long it had been going on or how many other units were involved, nobody ever knew. There was no in-depth probe. The department proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that it was incapable of policing itself.

Enter Bratton.

More soon.


And in other news, the FBI will participate in the investigation into the death of an unarmed black Texas college football player, Christian Taylor, who was fatally shot by a rookie Arlington, Texas, police officer during a burglary call at an Arlington car dealership. The officer had yet to complete his field training.

A video shows Taylor behaving erratically at the dealership before the shooting.

Meanwhile the well-liked college student’s twitter feed, which showed a repeated concern about social justice in general and police violence specifically, went viral, particularly his now famous tweet that reads: I don’t wanna die too younggggg

Posted in LAPD, writers and writing | 24 Comments »

A Ride Home, Fresno’s Restorative Justice, $$ Spent on Misconduct in Biggest Police Departments, and Obama Visits Prison

July 17th, 2015 by Taylor Walker


Carlos Cervantes and Roby So, members of the Anti-Recidivism Coalition (ARC), pick up men newly released former third-strikers from prison to help them through their often overwhelming first day on the outside.

Through their Ride Home Program, Carlos and Roby, who spent 11 and 12 years in prison themselves, often travel hours to meet people exiting prison, to help them acclimate and bring them up-to-date on what they missed while they were locked up.

When men and women come out of lock-up, they are often given just $200 to start over with, and if they don’t have family waiting to meet them, they have to navigate the unfamiliar alone.

NY Times’ Jon Mooallem has a great longread (and documentary video) on Carlos and Roby and their Ride Home program. Here are some clips:

Unlike typical parolees, third-strikers are often notified of their release just before it happens, sometimes only a day in advance. (It can take months for a judge to rule after papers are filed.) They’re usually sent out the door with $200, a not-insubstantial share of which they often pay back to the prison for a lift to the nearest Greyhound station: An inmate might be released from a prison outside Sacramento and expected to find his way to a parole officer in San Diego, 500 miles away, within 48 hours. Stanford’s Three Strikes Project was setting up transitional housing for its clients, but initially, a lot of the third-strikers weren’t making it there — they were just blowing away in the wind. Then, Carlos and Roby started driving around the state and waiting outside to catch them.

The job started as a simple delivery service, to carry some of these discombobulated bodies from one place to another. In late 2013, the director of the Three Strikes Project, Michael Romano, contacted a nonprofit called the Anti-Recidivism Coalition, which has built up a close community of formerly incarcerated people in Los Angeles. (Romano, who is also an A.R.C. board member, is a friend of mine.) Romano asked if A.R.C. could dispatch one of its members to pick up third-strikers and drive them to their housing near the Staples Center in Los Angeles. A.R.C. recommended Carlos, a dependable young man just three years out of prison himself, who — most important — also had his own car and a credit card to front money for gas. Carlos was hired, for $12 an hour, to fetch an old man named Terry Critton from a prison in Chino. On the way back, Critton asked if Carlos wouldn’t mind stopping at Amoeba Records, so he could look at jazz LPs — he’d been a big collector. They wound up spending almost two hours in the store, just looking. Then, Critton wanted a patty melt, so Carlos found a place called Flooky’s, where they ordered two and caught the end of a Dodgers game. It was extraordinary: All day, Carlos could see this man coming back to life. He wanted to do more pickups, and he wanted to get his friend Roby involved. He told his bosses he needed a partner.

By now, Carlos and Roby — officially, A.R.C.’s Ride Home Program — have done about three dozen pickups, either together or individually, waking up long before dawn and driving for hours toward prison towns deep in the desert or up the coast. Then they spend all day with the guy (so far they’ve picked up only men), taking him to eat, buying him some clothes, advising him, swapping stories, dialing his family on their cellphones or astonishing him by magically calling up Facebook pictures of nieces and nephews he’s never met — or just sitting quietly, to let him depressurize. The conversation with those shellshocked total strangers doesn’t always flow, Roby told me. It helps to have a wingman.

‘‘The first day is everything,’’ Carlos says — a barrage of insignificant-seeming experiences with potentially big consequences. Consider, for example, a friend of his and Roby’s: Julio Acosta, who was paroled in 2013 after 23 years inside. Acosta describes stopping for breakfast near the prison that first morning as if it were a horrifying fever dream: He kept looking around the restaurant for a sniper, as in the chow hall in prison, and couldn’t stop gawking at the metal knives and forks, ‘‘like an Aztec looking at Cortez’s helmet,’’ he says. It wasn’t until he got up from the booth and walked to the men’s room, and a man came out the door and said, ‘‘How you doin’?’’ and Acosta said, ‘‘Fine,’’ that Acosta began to feel, even slightly, like a legitimate part of the environment around him. He’d accomplished something. He’d made a treacherous trip across an International House of Pancakes. He’d peed.

But what if Acosta had accidentally bumped into a waitress, knocking over her tray and shattering dishes? What if that man had glared at him, instead of greeting him, or snapped at him to get the hell out of the way? Ann Jacobs, director of the Prisoner Re-entry Institute at New York’s John Jay College of Criminal Justice, told me that even the smallest bungled interactions on the outside leave recently incarcerated people feeling ‘‘like they’re being exposed, like they’re incompetent. It’s feeding into their worst fear, their perception of themselves as an impostor who’s incapable of living a normal life.’’ Carlos and Roby have learned to steer their guys through that perilous newness — and to be nonchalant about it, to make the sudden enormity of life feel unthreatening, even fun. On one ride home earlier this year, I watched a third-striker venture inside a convenience store, alone, to buy a candy bar while Roby pumped gas. The man seemed emboldened after a few hours of freedom, actually hopping a bit as he walked. But then he tripped over the curb and tumbled forward, arms thrashing, nearly face-planting in front of the door. Roby just shrugged and said, ‘‘Well, you’ve got to get that one out of the way.’’

‘‘Been a long time since I looked at a menu,’’ Dale Hammock said. He was sheltered in a corner of a booth at a Denny’s near the prison. The restaurant was overcrowded, loud and full of the kind of hyperdifferentiated nonsense that ordinary Americans swim through every day, never assuming it can or should be fully understood. But Hammock was having trouble sorting the breakfast menu from the lunch menu, and the regular Denny’s menu from the Denny’s Skillets Across America limited-time menu. There were two kinds of hot sauce and four different sweeteners on the table. On the Heinz ketchup bottle, it said: ‘‘Up for a Game? Trivial Pursuit Tomato Ketchup.’’

The first meal after a long prison sentence is an ostensible celebration laced with stress. The food tastes incredible. (Roby gained 60 pounds after his release, desperate to try the Outback Steakhouse Bloomin’ Onion and other fast-casual delicacies he’d seen commercials for on TV.) But ordering — making any choice — can be unnerving. Waiters are intimidating; waitresses, especially pretty ones, can be petrifying. So at Denny’s, Roby started things off, ordering a chocolate milk. Hammock ordered a chocolate milk, too. Then he reconsidered and said: ‘‘I want a milkshake! I’ll just have that!’’ He ordered a Grand Slam. Then he changed it to a Lumberjack Slam. And when the waiter shot back with ‘‘Toast: white, wheat or sourdough?’’ Hammock went stiff momentarily, then answered: ‘‘Toast, I guess.’’


The Chronicle of Social Change’s Lisa Jenkins looks at efforts in California to steer kids away from the juvenile justice system, with a particular focus on the Keeping Kids in School Project and the Victim Offender Reconciliation program (VORP), an important part of the restorative justice efforts in Fresno schools. Here’s a clip:

The 2013 KKIS conference was the first concrete step in changing the tone of the conversation around truancy. At the core of the 2013 conference was a recognition that students need to be physically in school in order to receive the state’s educational services. Being deprived of these services, as inevitably happens when one is chronically absent, has been tied to other problems; research presenters at the conference utilized statewide data showing a direct link between missing school, suspension from school and ultimately dropping out.

Making this link clear to parents, guardians and other stakeholders is the most important part of the work that KKIS is doing, said Gordon Jackson, director of the coordinated student support division in the California Department of Education, in a phone interview.

“Of course, all across the span of economics or earned income, there is this common thread among parents of wanting good things to happen for their kids,” Jackson said. “There is really a focus on the challenge of catching students early, before they develop truancy patterns, and involving the parents.”

This idea has been taken to heart in Fresno County, where the regional KKIS focus group and other stakeholders are working to improve academic performance of elementary and middle school students in order to prevent their eventual court-system involvement. This means targeting those with complicated home situations, and even creating personalized plans for how students will get to school. There is a particular focus on literacy, as studies have shown that students with strong reading engagement experience less absenteeism.

According to education specialists, one promising solution to this excessive absenteeism (and to numerous other justice questions) is a coordinated system of restorative justice.

Restorative justice programs involve two crucial components: a discussion among those involved with the crime or truancy, and a concrete plan for rectifying the situation. The oldest such program in the state, VORP of the Central Valley, was founded in 1982 by Ron and Roxanne Claasen, but has only relatively recently gained the momentum to become a part of the local juvenile justice vocabulary.

For the Claasens, who also founded the Discipline That Restores program at Fresno Pacific University, these techniques are an important part of getting students to reconnect with their school communities. After involvement with restorative justice techniques, VORP estimates that eight of every ten juvenile offenders successfully move on from crime and return to school. Instituted across school districts, these results are significant; when comparable California communities have instituted district-wide restorative justice policies, they have cut suspensions by up to 60 percent in just five years.


The ten cities with the largest police departments paid out a total of $248.7 million last year in officer misconduct settlements and court judgments. That number is up 48% from 2010′s grand total of $168.3 million. Between those five years the ten cities paid out a combined $1.02 billion. New York City was responsible for a whopping $601.3 million, more than half of that 2010-2014 grand total. In comparison, Los Angeles, while still among the top three cities that spent the most, had a five year total of $57.1 million.

Los Angeles, Baltimore, Phoenix, unlike the other seven cities, experienced a decline in payout amounts between 2010-2014. And in LA, 39% of payout dollars were spent on misconduct cases. In Chicago, misconduct cases accounted for 89% of the total.

The Wall Street Journal’s Zusha Elinson and Dan Frosh have more on the numbers.

Cities are cutting more checks to people who were wrongfully imprisoned years ago because of police misconduct. As more wrongful convictions come to light, jury verdicts have risen, with some now exceeding $2 million a year behind bars.

New York City agreed last year to pay $41 million to five black and Hispanic men imprisoned for the 1989 beating and rape of a jogger in Central Park, then freed after another man confessed and DNA evidence confirmed his story. City lawyers under former Mayor Michael Bloomberg had fought a lawsuit brought by the five men, which alleged that detectives coerced confessions from them as teens. Under current Mayor Bill de Blasio, the city agreed to a settlement equal to about $1 million for each year each man spent behind bars.

New York City Corporation Counsel Zachary Carter said the settlement “should not be construed as an acknowledgment that the convictions of these five plaintiffs were the result of law-enforcement misconduct.”

Chicago has been trying to resolve cases stemming from allegations that detectives, led by former commander Jon Burge, tortured black and Hispanic suspects with implements like electric cattle prods, coercing confessions from them and putting them behind bars from the 1970s to early 1990s for crimes they didn’t commit. Those cases have cost the city more than $60 million in payouts. In May, Chicago launched a $5.5 million reparations fund for some of the victims.

A Chicago police spokesman called Mr. Burge’s actions a “disgrace.” Mr. Burge was convicted of federal perjury and obstruction charges in 2010. Mr. Burge, who has been released from prison, declined to comment.

In New York, settlements and judgments in misconduct cases hit $165 million in fiscal 2014, up from $93.8 million in 2010. Both New York and Los Angeles, which paid out $10.7 million on such cases last year, now are tracking claims more closely and trying new approaches to risk management.

New York City’s government-run hospitals were for years the city’s leading source of liability payouts, primarily because of medical-malpractice settlements. But beginning in the 2010 fiscal year, the police department surpassed the city hospitals in total liability payouts.

The trend caught the attention of New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer, who launched a program to track legal claims called ClaimStat. “Instead of accepting rising claims and settlements as the cost of doing business,” Mr. Stringer says, the city can use the data to identify underlying problems and make changes to prevent future suits.

The number of new claims filed against New York City police, including allegations of police misconduct and damage from car crashes, rose 71% between 2004 and 2013, according to the comptroller.

“While the filing of a lawsuit does not prove any misconduct on the part of an officer, the department is aware of the increasing number of actions filed against the NYPD,” a spokeswoman said, adding that the department is “addressing these very real concerns” with the creation of a risk-management bureau and police litigation unit.

The settlement with Mr. Garner’s estate came nearly a year after his confrontation with officers who accused him of selling untaxed cigarettes—a scene captured in a widely viewed video. Mr. Stringer said the settlement “acknowledges the tragic nature of Mr. Garner’s death while balancing my office’s fiscal responsibility to the city.”


On Thursday, President Barack Obama became the first sitting president to visit a federal prison. NPR’s Scott Horsley has the story on the president’s visit.

Posted in LAPD, Obama, Reentry, Restorative Justice, School to Prison Pipeline, Zero Tolerance and School Discipline | 5 Comments »

Private Prison Medicine, Foster Care Benefits for Dual Status Kids, Presidential Pot Pardons, Sheriff Jim McDonnell on WWLA? …and More

July 16th, 2015 by Taylor Walker


The private medical company, California Forensic Medical Group, is the largest prison health care provider in CA. And, not unlike the largest prison health care company in the nation, Corizon Correctional Health Care, CFMG continues to rake in money despite being mired in scandals and lawsuits alleging mistreatment, neglect, and short-staffing.

CFMG holds medical care contracts for 64 detention facilities in 27 of California’s 58 counties. Most of the counties are rural, like Imperial and Yolo, but CFMG is also responsible for thousands of inmates in counties like San Diego, Ventura, Santa Cruz, and it’s hometown, Monterey.

Around 200 inmates have died in the last decade under CFMG medical care, and more than 80 lawsuits have been filed against the company in the last 15 years, according to an investigation by FairWarning.

FairWarning’s Brian Joseph takes an in depth look at CMFG’s history (which is not unlike many other private prison companies), as well as the stories of inmates who died seemingly preventable deaths while under the care of CFMG. Here are some clips:

The outsourcing of medical care in jails and prisons reflects a nationwide push for privatizing government duties. The private sector, outsourcing advocates say, offers better services at a lower cost. But while other government services have outspoken constituencies, jails and prisons do not. Inmates usually have little clout to demand change if they believe they are receiving poor health care.

“Society doesn’t really care about prisoners,” said Neville Johnson, a Beverly Hills lawyer. Johnson sued CFMG and Yolo County, near Sacramento, over the August 2000 jailhouse suicide of Stephen Achen. A drug addict, Achen warned some jail staffers that he could become self-destructive but promised another that he wouldn’t hurt himself. “As we got into it, we were astonished at what we felt [was] the deliberate indifference of the jail staff and especially CFMG, which is nothing but a money-making machine,” Johnson said. CFMG settled with the Achen family for $825,000 after a judge found evidence of medical understaffing, according to media reports.

The private sector started providing health services to jails and prisons in the 1970s, when negligent medical care became a foremost prisoners’ rights issue. Inmates across the country filed lawsuits alleging inadequate care. Courts ruled that depriving prisoners of competent medical services was unconstitutional and in some cases ordered states and counties to take corrective action. Wardens and sheriffs, lacking backgrounds in medicine, turned to outside contractors for help.


Ryan George, age 22, was serving time for domestic violence in 2007 when he experienced the onset of a sickle cell crisis, a painful, but treatable, condition where blood vessels become clogged by the misshapen cells. For days, Valerie says, Ryan called her from jail in obvious pain, complaining that he was being neglected.

Finally, when he was found “unresponsive” in his bed, Ryan was taken to the hospital, according to court records. But after a couple of days, of treatment, doctors there decided Ryan was exaggerating some of his symptoms and sent him back to jail. Shortly thereafter, Valerie said, a CFMG doctor called her, saying Ryan was getting worse. She says she demanded that the doctor take him to the hospital, but he said “that’s not a possibility.”

The company doctor acknowledged in court papers that he spoke with Valerie George, but disputed her version of what was said. CFMG executives also acknowledged that the company would have incurred more costs if Ryan was sent back to the hospital, but denied that financial concerns had anything to do with his death.

A few days later, Ryan George was found dead in his cell, with dark green fluid oozing from his mouth and eyes, according to the civil complaint. A subsequent Sonoma County Grand Jury investigation found that the “Sheriff’s (department) and CFMG medical staff failed to fully intervene” when Ryan’s condition worsened. “He was not re-hospitalized, despite exhibiting symptoms of jaundice, severe dehydration, bone pain, altered level of consciousness and loss of urinary and bowel control,” the grand jury found. Said Valerie George, whose family settled with CFMG: “They let him die like a dog in a cage because this company would not pay for him to get proper medical treatment.”


“Why wasn’t an ambulance called?” a guard later recalled someone asking when he wheeled a pale Dau into El Centro Regional Medical Center at about 9:30 a.m. on July 23, 2011. A doctor rushed to her side and felt her neck. “She has no pulse!” the doctor yelled, according to a deposition given later by the physician. Hospital staff cut off her jumpsuit and attempted CPR, but it was no use: at 9:56 a.m. Dau was declared dead.

A subsequent autopsy by Imperial County Chief Forensic Pathologist Darryl Garber determined Dau died of heart disease with a contributing factor being acute drug intoxication from the multiple medications she was prescribed. Garber also discovered Dau had a bed sore on her lower back, suggesting that she had been unable to move for some time.

Later, according to the minutes from a meeting about Dau’s death, CFMG and jail staff decided that an ambulance should have been called and that Dau was “probably” going through Valium withdrawal.


A CA bill to give foster kids involved in the juvenile justice system (often called “dual status” or “crossover” youth) extended foster care benefits was approved unanimously by the Assembly Judiciary Committee.

SB 12, authored by Senator Jim Beall (D-San Jose), would close a loophole in existing law, and ensure kids who turn 18 while in juvenile detention receive extended benefits like their non-justice-system-involved peers.

Sawsan Morrar has more on the bill and its progress for the Chronicle of Social Change. Here’s a clip:

DeAngelo Cortijo, an intern at the National Center for Youth Law, spoke at Tuesday’s hearing about his firsthand experience as a crossover youth. Cortijo was removed from his home when he was two after his mother attempted suicide. He was placed with family members, and at one point returned to his mother, before he was sent to foster care amid reports of abuse. Since then, he was in over four detention facilities, and ran away from group home placements several times.

“When I was released, I faced many challenges,” Cortijo said. “I now have to fend for myself as an adult. I had to find stable and clean housing. I didn’t have an income to support myself.”

Cortijo was left depending on others for the most basic needs like purchasing a toothbrush or borrowing socks.

“Do you know what that does to a person’s confidence? It completely destroys it,” he said.

With extended benefits in place, Cortijo would have received about $800 a month, just like other transition-age foster youth, to help pay for food, housing and school.

Jennifer Rodriguez, executive director of the Youth Law Center, said these probation youth in transition are exactly who extended foster care aims to support.

“We know that the rates of homelessness, unemployment and incarceration for young people who cross from dependency to delinquency are double to triple the rates for youth who are just in dependency or delinquency,” she said.

According to the Youth Law Center there are approximately 4,000 probation-supervised foster youth in California. There are over 50,000 foster youth in the state.


On Monday, President Barack Obama announced that he had commuted the sentences of 46 non-violent drug offenders, bringing the total number of approved commutation petitions up to 89. While this is a good step in the right direction, there are 95,265 federal prisoners serving time for drug offenses.

The Atlantic’s Zach Hindin makes the case for presidential pardons for all marijuana offenders in federal prison. Former President George W. Bush commuted 11 sentences and pardoned 189 during his 8 years in office, and Bill Clinton commuted 61 sentences and pardoned 396. Our current president has granted just 64 pardons, thus far. (If you are fuzzy on the difference between the two, a pardon wipes a person’s criminal record and restores rights, a commutation shortens a person’s sentence, but does not offer a clean slate.) Obama’s latest move seems far less historically meaningful when compared to Woodrow Wilson and Franklin D. Roosevelt’s thousands of post-prohibition acts of clemency for alcohol offenses, says Hindin.

Here’s a clip:

…Compared with the last few administrations, commuting the sentences of 46 nonviolent drug offenders may seem historic. But history sets the bar higher still.

In May 1919, Woodrow Wilson was in Paris negotiating the Treaty of Versailles. It’s hard to think of a moment when any president had a better reason to shelve domestic affairs, but on Monday, May 12, Wilson telegraphed his secretary in Washington: “Please ask the Attorney General to advise me what action I can take with regard to removing the ban from the manufacture of drink.” A week later Wilson sent another cable, this time to Congress: “It seems to me entirely safe now to remove the ban upon the manufacture and sale of wines and beers.”

Congress declined, and instead introduced a bill to shore up the Eighteenth Amendment, known as the Volstead Act. Wilson vetoed the Act. Congress overrode his veto. With no legislative recourse, Wilson chipped away at Prohibition using the executive power that Congress could not check: his pardon. By the end of his second term, alcohol offenders accounted for more than one-fifth of Wilson’s clemency recipients.

Unlike Wilson, Franklin D. Roosevelt had been ambivalent about Prohibition. During his time in the New York State Senate, the powerful Anti-Saloon League had praised Roosevelt’s “perfect voting record.” Even after the repeal of Prohibition became central to his presidential platform, according to one biographer, “the story persisted that whatever Roosevelt might say, there was a voting record to prove he was ‘dry’ at heart.” But when Prohibition was repealed by popular demand in 1933, FDR went on a pardoning spree that outclassed his predecessors, approving alcohol offenders who had been previously rejected or otherwise hadn’t even applied.

Wilson used his pardon to protest an impossible law. Roosevelt used his to acknowledge the change in social norms.

The time when most Americans condoned alcohol consumption despite Prohibition rhymes with our own, when 53 percent of the country supports the legalization of marijuana, and pot laws have been curtailed in 23 states and the nation’s capital. And just as Prohibition offered a legal apparatus for racism, today, the racial imbalances in marijuana arrests and sentencing are so stark that many in this country consider them a proxy for racial control. In 49 states, blacks are more likely than whites to be arrested for marijuana—in the worst offending counties, by a factor of eight. The limit of this analogy is scale—together, Wilson and Roosevelt issued some 2,000 alcohol-related acts of clemency. In 2012 alone, almost 7,000 people were convicted in federal courts for marijuana offenses, according to the U.S. Sentencing Commission, more than for any other type of drug.


After 10 jail employees were relieved of duty this past weekend in connection with alleged jail abuse, LA County Sheriff Jim McDonnell appeared on KCRW’s Which Way, LA? with Warren Olney to discuss jail abuse, transparency, mental illness, and his hopes for the facility that will replace the crumbling Men’s Central Jail.

Take a listen.

In another segment, investigative reporter Jeffrey Sharlet talks about his in-depth GQ story about the March LAPD shooting of Charly Keunang, an unarmed homeless man in Skid Row, and the unreleased officer body cam videos he was able to watch of the incident.


In 2013, three Gardena police officers fatally shot Ricardo Diaz Zeferino, an unarmed man they mistook for a robbery suspect. According to officers involved, Diaz Zeferino appeared to be reaching for a weapon. The city settled the resulting lawsuit to the tune of $4.7 million, but refused to release videos of the shooting, because of privacy concerns.

On Tuesday, federal Judge Stephen V. Wilson ordered the city of Gardena to release the videos. And at a press conference on Wednesday, an attorney representing Diaz Zeferino’s family called for a federal civil rights investigation into the shooting.

Here’s a clip from the KPCC update:

Mercardo said the videos allow the public to see for themselves what took place shortly after police stopped Diaz Zeferino and two others suspected of stealing a bike.

“The public can be the judge of what really happened that night,” she said, adding the family had been searching for justice, not money.

Diaz Zeferino’s brother, Augustine Reynoso, holding aloft a picture of the two of them embracing, said he wanted to bring the Gardena police department to account for the death of his brother.

“Money is not what’s important in life. Life is what’s important in life,” he said through Mercado, who translated his comments. “I want justice to be done. I want the Gardena Police Department to be investigated more deeply. That’s why I’m here.”

Posted in Crossover Youth, DCFS, Foster Care, jail, Jim McDonnell, juvenile justice, LAPD, LASD, Marijuana laws, medical care, Mental Illness, Obama, Sentencing, War on Drugs | No Comments »

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